Blue-gray gnatcatcher and more at the FWG

by Christine Hanrahan

I arrived at the FWG at 5:30 this morning, a major effort for someone like me, normally a night owl. I’d hoped to hear a dawn chorus of migrants – warblers, vireos, flycatchers, and so on. That didn’t happen. Until the sun came up fully, the only birds singing were robins and a few song sparrows, joined by some calling crows and one lone tree swallow twittering over the pond.

A green heron arrived just about on schedule. This one was calling from various locations - breeding season is here and he wonders where the female is.

A green heron arrived just about on schedule. This one was calling from various locations – breeding season is here and he wonders where the female is.

However, once the sun peeked over the treetops, activity picked up. Female red-winged blackbirds busy with their nest-making, tree swallows swooping and calling across the garden, song sparrows all over the place. Recent arrivals include several singing yellow warblers and a very vocal green heron. The heron flew into the big walnut tree by the pond, on top of which the male kestrel was perched, and commenced calling. He then flew off to the ravine, the woods, and the slope overlooking the canal, calling constantly.

The phoebe’s nest is now just about complete, and the birds were heard in the ravine and Backyard Garden. As mentioned before, they are a new nesting species for the FWG. Another new nesting species, red-breasted nuthatches, had started a nest in a most unsuitable location, but soon vanished from that site. We thought they’d left the garden, but not so. They are now nesting in a more sensible site, a cavity about 20 feet up in the ash woods.

In addition to many more common birds singing and flying around the garden, I saw a very neat bird, a new addition to our list: BLUE-GRAY GNATCATCHER. As I stood eating an orange, thinking how nice it was before the heat of the day took over, I became aware of an unusual call. It took a few seconds before I realized, “holy smoke, gnatcatcher.” I saw it for about 3 minutes as it flew after insects and moved from tree to tree, eventually vanishing in a westerly direction. Although I looked for quite awhile, I didn’t see or hear it again. I did manage to get a pathetic photo which I’ll put on the blog.

One green frog was in the BYG pond early this morning, but there may well have been more as the day warmed up. I forgot to go back and check. I hoped to hear American toads trilling, as they were doing last week, but neither they nor gray treefrogs were calling while I was there.

Two mourning cloaks and two spring azures were flitting around near the ash woods, and nomada bees, small carpenter bees, honey bees, bumble bees, andrenids, and so on, were nectaring on the wild plums. Even a snail was oozing its way up the plum tree. We have considerable thickets of this Prunus species, and at this time of year they are a magnet for insects. In the past, I’ve found butterflies also visiting them.

A red squirrel was exhausted by all the activity taking place in his home. Or at least, that is how I anthropomorphically interpreted his pose. A few minutes before, he’d been sitting hunched up, as above him four male cowbirds were carrying on – screeching and fluttering and making a to-do. Eventually they left, and he ventured out along a branch, when in came a yellow-rumped warbler, almost landed on him, and began hopping along a branch just over his head. The squirrel sank down in an exhausted pose, nose to the branch, as if to say, “I give up!”

Everything is leafing out and, in some cases, flowering has just about finished (already). The unusually warm weather has hurried everything along at top speed, as if making up for lost time.

Lots of photos in the May photo gallery here:


FWG on May 1, 2013

by Christine Hanrahan

It was our first real scorcher of a day at 25 degrees C (anything above 15 C is a heat wave to me). I was expecting to see butterflies, even perhaps a few spring azures, as I’ve seen them elsewhere recently, but no butterflies showed themselves to me. However, bees were abundant! Bumble bees, nomada bees, various andrenid bees, sweat bees, scores of all of them. They were nectaring on magnolias, scilla, daffodils, and the few willow catkins still with pollen.

Many of the birds that were present in good numbers last week have left to carry on their migration. Still present are a few white-throated sparrows and juncos. I also saw many song sparrows, goldfinches, chickadees, red-winged blackbirds, a male kestrel with a meadow vole, a sharp-shinned hawk flying above our interpretive centre, many tree swallows, one pursuing the kestrel! White-breasted nuthatches, but the red-breasted nuthatches seem to have given up on nesting in the snag. Not a bad idea, as it was a terrible location.

However, exciting news: a pair of eastern phoebes are building a nest above one of the security lights on the side of the building. I watched for some time as they went back and forth with tiny bits of moss and other plant matter, carefully placing each bit on top of the light, fussily moving the pieces around until just so. Such laborious and lengthy work – quite impressive. Whether they actually nest remains to be seen, but so far, so good. Last week, they were exploring the nest site the robins used in 2012, on the front of the building. Fortunately for them, they thought better of it. If they do nest, it will be the first nesting record for phoebe at the garden.

Speaking of nesting, red squirrels have been using some of the bird nest boxes for years. Typically, they take over ones that birds no longer use, usually because trees have grown up around them making them difficult for swallows to access, but perfect for squirrels. We have many bird boxes up and I reason that, if we leave the old ones hidden by trees for the squirrels, they’ll leave the other ones alone. So far this has worked well, and everyone is happy.

Bloodroot - These beauties are among the first to appear in spring. They are now in full bloom in many locations throughout the woods, spread over the years by ants that carry off the seeds.

Bloodroot – These beauties are among the first to appear in spring. They are now in full bloom in many locations throughout the woods, spread over the years by ants that carry off the seeds.

In the woods, bloodroot is in full bloom. Each year new clumps grow up, thanks to ants who help transport the seeds. Red trilliums are about to burst open at any moment. Other flowers can’t be far behind. I mentioned magnolias – the two magnolias in the garden are in bloom and beautiful to see.

Photos were added to the April blog over the last week, including some beautiful bird photos by Diane. I added a shot of a red squirrel feeding on a mouse. Not particularly pleasant to see, and I admit I felt a bit queasy taking the photos. I posted the least offensive one! Of course, reds are omnivores, and while vegetable matter makes up a good proportion of their diet, they will eat birds and other small mammals that they catch. They are also scavengers, eating dead critters when times are tough.

April blog

More photos on the new May blog